Iranian authorities have reportedly hanged Hashem Shaabani, a poet which the regime has accused of being “an enemy of God.” His execution should do more than anything else to provide an opportunity for Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power to embrace moral clarity, for it does more than anything to show the undeniable cruelty of the Islamic Republic and its murderous ideology.
There is a tendency in the State Department—the administration does not matter—to repress discussion of human rights out of fear that to discuss them will risk progress on harder national-security issues like the nuclear deal or terrorism. This is a mistake: If the Iranian commitment to come in from the cold is so shaky that it can’t deal with rightful criticism of its treatment of political prisoners and internal dissidents, then the deal is so fragile as to be not worth relying upon.
At the same time, the incident reminds how insincere European leaders and diplomats are when they promise critical engagement. It has now been 21 years since German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel unveiled Germany’s “critical engagement.” The idea was to talk with the Iranians, but put critical issues such as human rights at the center of dialogue. However, once European diplomats sit down at the table—and Kerry models himself after his European counterparts—the ‘critical’ aspect of the dialogue goes out the window. Make no mistake, Tehran, Damascus, and other rogue states know this. They understand that they can break their isolation, revive their economy, and not only continue business as usual, but actually augment internal terror because American and European officials will be so scared of insulting their partners, that they will simply accept whatever outrage rogue regimes dish up.
Shaabani is the latest victim of this pattern. Unless Kerry and his European counterparts are willing to speak up forcefully and demand such outrages cease, Shaabani will not be the last victim. If Kerry is convinced that Iran really is changing, he should not be afraid to stand on principle. If the character of the regime hasn’t changed, the United States should place no faith it Iran’s commitment to abide by its nuclear deal.